THE CUNNINGHAM-DEVEREUX CONTROVERSY
When Commander Cunningham returned home from prison camp in 1945, he half-expected to be court-martialed for ordering the surrender of Wake Island. To his surprise, he discovered that his countrymen regarded the fight at Wake as an example of American courage rather than cowardice.
Instead of being heralded as the garrison's ranking officer, however, Cunningham met with a terrible shock. All accounts of the siege published during the war either failed to mention him or depicted him as a passive figurehead who contributed nothing positive to the atoll's defense. "During my years of imprisonment," the island commander complained, "the story of Wake Island had developed into a massive legend of Marine Corps heroism. And there was no room in that legend for a Navy officer, even if he happened to be in command of the Marine heroes." Other members of the garrison expressed surprise at this lack of recognition. As Lt. John Kinney, one of the foremost "Marine heroes," observed: " CommanderCunningham was the senior officer on the island and he actually exercised command. Major Devereaux was in charge of the defense of the island but he took his orders from Commander Cunningham. . . . Usually the top man gets credit in a military operation, but this case seems to be different."1
For the last forty-one years of his life, Cunningham would wage a bitter, often solitary battle to establish himself as the man who actually conducted the defense of Wake Island. He went to his grave convinced that he was the victim of a sinister plot--one cooked up by Leatherneck publicists and